General Posts

Learning from one another – curating dialogue on Facebook

Do you remember asking a classmate to help you with your homework? Perhaps they owed you a favor because you’d helped them with something else? There are many intellectual, cultural and social reasons for asking friends and colleagues for help, but what is quite fascinating to me is the manner in which we respond to one another. When we engage with others’ success and failures, we learn. Development experts have a buzzword for this type of peer learning; they call it “collaboration.”

At GlobalGiving we crowdsource new partnerships with non-profit organizations that have expressed interest in working with us. Typically we work actively with 500-600 organizations over 2-4 months, through group trainings and individual consultations to help organizations map and grow their networks and building an online fundraising plan. We then invite them to post a project on the site and implement their online fundraising strategy raise funds for their projects. If an organization meets a threshold of raising $4000, from at least 50 donors they are invited to join the GlobalGiving platform. We call this an Open Challenge.

In addition to the trainings and individual consultations for Challenge participants who we call Project Leaders (PLs), we host sessions with fundraising experts and other social entrepreneurs who have successfully leveraged our tools (aha! The peers!).  Several years ago it suddenly struck us – what would happen if we made it easier for organizations to talk to one another?

Facebook turned out to be the lowest common social media denominator amongst Challenge participants, so we created a private Facebook group, first time in December 2010.At first we used it primarily to share fundraising resources, and encouraged people to ask questions about the design and other details of the Challenge.  It was gratifying to watch the conversation start to emerge – people asked and answered questions, others made suggestions  and shared fundraising ideas.

But it wasn’t quite vibrant. We tried something different for the next group we set up for the last Open Challenge we hosted. Here’s what we did differently:

  • Every day during the Challenge we posted relevant content– fundraising tips, links to resources and suggestions for raising funds
  • Regularly asked a variety of questions of the participants
  • Engaged participants that had shown interest by inviting them to share their opinions on a particular question
  • Responded to every single post by a member, with a relevant response
  • Celebrated accomplishments big and small

These tactics were driven by some of our core philosophies:

  • Intention: curating the conversation, and facilitating interaction
  • Relevance: sharing irrelevant information is a waste of time
  • Celebration: fundraising is hard work. 4 out of 10 participants had never raised funds online before, so we celebrated all types of victories
  • Recognition: by acknowledging contributions to the group we encouraged more participation. The emerging dialogue seemed to draw more comments.

Take a look at what happened. In comparison to a Facebook group organized for the previous Challenge in April, relevant posts (i.e. posts that were not just links to their projects, and websites) increased from 8% to 33%. The number of Facebook posts from participants increased from 6% to 24%.

In addition, the content of the conversation changed. The posts and comments covered a range of subjects from ideas for fundraising, potential solutions for questions posed, and reactions to fundraising resources that had been posted. Three out of four posts entered by the organizations resulted in two or more comments.

Wow.  People were talking with each other, and they seemed to find the conversation useful! It was exciting to watch people begin to collaborate instead of just compete. It is heartwarming to see the group celebrate milestones – projects submitted, funds raised, thresholds met.

We will continue to experiment with the way we facilitate these conversations by  making it fun and interesting for members to talk to each other with the upcoming Winter Global Open Challenge. This idea of creating a space for interaction to happen is central to GlobalGiving’s core philosophies. We believe that expertise should be decentralized, and that the possibility of learning from each other is immense.

If you have any experience in facilitating content-driven dialogue online, please do share your thoughts with us. We’re going to keep experimenting, and keep learning.

climbing up the hockey stick

It really is hard to believe that it’s been nearly eight years since the day in Geneva when I met Dennis Whittle.   I went 4,073 miles to meet the guy who would turn the page to my career’s second chapter, when his office was just 3 miles from my house.  Three weeks later I met the other half of the founding duo – Mari Kuraishi.  Needless to say they were smart, direct, and impressive.  So not long after that I found myself toiling along with them and two handfuls of others in that sometimes smelly, often music-filled and always fun office above the thrift store down the street.

One of the first things they suggested I do was to read their business plan.  So I did.  It had, like legions of business plans before it, the classic hockey stick growth curve.  In our case, the unit being donation volume.  According to this plan, we would be at $40 million in annual donation volume, and “pay our own freight” by about 2005.  Um, we didn’t quite make that.  Many slightly less sloped hockey sticks followed.  When things didn’t take off like a rocket ship we tried new things, always led by our two fearless (and in this case that word really applies) leaders.  We tried plan b, plan c, and plan d, always with our eyes on the prize of working to make it possible for great organizations around the world to access funds and for donors of all shapes and sizes to support the causes that inspired them.

So here we are in 2011, celebrating two things.  First, our donor community just crossed $50 million in aggregate contributions.  Second, for the first six months of the year we more than “paid our own way,” covering 103% of our expenses on our own steam.  The business model is different from what was in the original plan.  The mix of donation activity is different from what was in the plan.  The mix of revenue comes from sources not in the original plan.  And we don’t yet feel like that 103% is a lock consistently, but we see the end of the tunnel.

Roles have evolved; Dennis has transitioned off the staff and onto the Board.  Mari runs the day to day with her quiet, determined leadership style.

Why did they persevere?  Ten days ago Dennis wrote a very poignant blog post, made moreso by his mom’s passing just a day later.  The post gives some insight into what motivates him.  Mari  has different, but equally inspiring, motivations as described in this Wharton Blog from earlier this year.

From the perspective of their team, we are glad they did press on.  Because they did, more than 50 million dollars have been contributed to social entrepreneurs and nonprofits around the world who are working to educate children, feed the hungry, build houses, train women (and men) with job skills, and catalyze hundreds of other important initiatives. This past week, a generous donor in Singapore gave the 50 millionth dollar through GlobalGiving to help with relief for the East African famine.  This was possible largely because Dennis and Mari have persevered to build a team and a platform that continue to live up to our mission of “unleashing the potential of people around the world to make positive change happen.”

Why 15% Makes Sense

People sometimes ask me why we charge a 15% transaction fee.  My cheeky answer is, “So I can be sitting here having this conversation with you.”  As Chief Program Officer at GlobalGiving, my job is to make GlobalGiving more valuable to more organizations around the world.  We work with thousands of organizations, qualifying them, supporting them, disbursing funds to them, monitoring their activities, and maintaining an online platform for them to connect with donors.  Work at this scale would be impossible with an all-volunteer team.  Without great people and robust systems working full-time, GlobalGiving does not work.

Could we find a large donor to fund operations, making the ongoing transactions free?  Maybe, but we believe a transaction-based fee is a better idea.  Funders like Skoll Foundation, Omidyar Network, Hewlett Foundation, Packard Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and Kellogg Foundation have invested in our effort to make the transaction-based model work, and we’re almost there.  The model gives GlobalGiving a strong incentive to invest in the performance of our marketplace, which aligns nicely with our partner organizations’ goals and the needs of donors – the more funds flowing, the greater the social impact.  We are motivated to build better tools for donors and project leaders, we aggressively court corporate partners, we attract donors through a strong social media presence, we offer free training and development opportunities to our project leaders, and we find innovative ways to demonstrate results.  We strive to earn our 15%, and GlobalGiving only works if we deliver the value.

So, why do organizations decide that 15% is good value?  We connect them with new donors, we provide donor management tools, and for some organizations we save the expense of maintaining a transactional web platform.  For international organizations, the ability receive tax-deductible contributions in a secure, transparent platform is worth the 15%.  We do not charge organizations an up front fee to participate in GlobalGiving, so fees only exist when donations flow, and we’re careful to explain the fee to all prospective organizations.  Donors should feel good giving to organizations on GlobalGiving, because each organization calculates that our platform is worth 15%.  Donors always have the option of covering that 15%, and over 50% do just that.  Donors should expect to receive quarterly updates and can exercise the GlobalGiving Guarantee if the experience doesn’t meet expectations.  We just finished our best year yet, delivering more funding to more organizations than ever before.

That said, our 15% does not work for many organizations.  For organizations that maintain a web site with transaction processing, or have a staff dedicated to donor management, or do not like to accept project-specific funding, GlobalGiving is probably not a good fit, and that’s fine.  If a donor simply wants to fund general operations of a US nonprofit, that donor should give through that organization’s web site or a portal like Network for Good, both of which have lower fees.

Our commitment to this model holds us directly accountable to the donors and organizations connecting on our platform.  Organizations and donors do not have to use GlobalGiving  If we are not worth our 15%, people will stop transacting, and GlobalGiving will not survive.  If we are worth our 15%, more transactions will happen, we will continue to improve the platform, and we might just improve the efficiency of giving to the most effective organizations worldwide.

A first person account of haiti one year later

Below is an excerpt from a note sent by Marisa Glassman to several of our corporate partners this week:

Britt Lake and I spent a week in Haiti in January visiting a number of GlobalGiving project partners, all of which our corporate partners’ employees and communities supported through GlobalGiving last year. I intended to follow-up sooner after my trip, but I’ve admittedly had somewhat of a difficult timing wrapping my mind around what my exact messaging to partners should be. Because as productive and motivating as much of what I saw was, there is still much room for improvement.

The great news is that the organizations we visited were incredibly inspiring.  We specifically targeted some of the smaller, lesser known organizations to better familiarize ourselves with their work.   And we were not disappointed.  The happy, healthy, and absolutely adorable orphans at the Rivers of Hope Orphanage were a joy to see, and the conditions they lived in would make any adoptive parent or donor happy and proud.  We saw some truly community-based work during our visit to European Disaster Volunteers, visiting the various schools and orphanages with which they work.  We met with a clean water organization called Deep Springs International, which is not only distributing chlorine solution and buckets to thousands of families but also employs mostly Haitian workers (all but two of its roughly 240 employees). We visited a Haitian organization called Lambi Fund, with which we have been working for years prior to the earthquake, and met an entire group of their beneficiaries in a rural part of the country.  We visited with International Medical Corps, who operates a primary health care clinic in one of the largest tent cities in Port-au-Prince on the grounds of a former golf course.  They were also kind enough to stay with us for over an hour while our truck got stuck in the mud on the way out of the area (never a dull moment!).  And that was only about half of our visits – there were many other very interesting and moving encounters that week as well.

As I’m sure you’ve heard and read about recently, not all the news to report from our trip is good.  Many people are questioning the ability of international aid and governments to effectively help the people of Haiti as a whole, especially since we passed the anniversary of the earthquake on January 12th and the overall landscape is, indeed, still rather bleak.  Much of the rubble has not been cleared, let alone are many homes and buildings being rebuilt.  Every park and/or open space in Port-au-Prince you can imagine is now an IDP (internally displaced person) camp, housing much of the 1 million-plus Haitians who are estimated to be living in the tents within them. Cholera is a growing problem, and diseases like malaria and tuberculosis persist. While it is difficult to see how and where immediate widespread changes will occur, the organizations we visited provide a stark contrast to the generally grim picture the press has, in many cases rightfully, painted.

The people and infrastructure of Haiti have a long way to go as a whole, and I am proud to be working with project organizations like the ones  mentioned earlier, as well as our corporate partners like Discovery Communications, Capital One, Dell, and Nike to do what we can, no matter how large or small.

Farewell (But I’m not going far)

After ten fabulous years at GlobalGiving, I fully turned over the reins to my co-founder, Mari Kuraishi, at the end of December.  This completes a transition that we began in 2008.

Although the decision to step down was hard, I feel that now is the right time.  We have proven the concept, established a world-class online platform, and made a big impact. When we started ten years ago, the idea of an open-access approach to aid and philanthropy seemed radical; it is now becoming the new norm.

To date, we have helped direct over $47 million to 3,000 organizations in 110 countries.  This funding has come from nearly 140,000 individual donors as well as from many of the world’s most innovative companies, along with their employees and customers.  We have been featured in over forty books and countless magazine articles, radio and TV pieces, and online media. Our success has spurred similar initiatives in other sectors and countries, and we now partner with some of these organizations to push the whole sector ahead.

Our accomplishments and momentum are the product of an amazing team here at GlobalGiving.  Our people are stellar, but more importantly they all work together like a finely oiled machine.  Our project team, donor team, business development team, tech team, finance team, and operations team work seamlessly. They can move new ideas, opportunities, and features from concept to execution and evaluation faster than any organization I have ever worked with.  I really am in awe of the people I have had the privilege to work with at GlobalGiving.

In late 2000, Mari and I left the World Bank to pursue a simple idea: that everyone in the world with an idea for improving their world should be able to have their voice heard.  We believed that any person, company, or organization should be able to support the ideas directly.  Not everyone would succeed, of course, but everyone would have an opportunity.  We had spent our previous careers in aid agencies that granted access to ideas and funding to only a select few.  We thought the time had come for   an open-access market connecting ideas with funding that provided a level playing field for all bona fide participants.

We also felt that with open access should come increased transparency and accountability – and an emphasis on continuous improvement. Our idea was that groups seeking funding should have their proposals displayed publicly, should be willing to answer questions from potential supporters, and should provide frequent updates on the site so that donors could see the impact of their support.  We felt that beneficiaries and others should be able to post reviews and comments on the site for everyone to see. We felt that organizations that learn and adapt should be encouraged and rewarded.  We felt that donors should be able to talk to each other about which projects and organizations they supported, and why.

Though we have not yet achieved everything we set out to do, the bottom line is this: For the first time in history, any group pursuing good in the world can now have its voice heard.  And donors of all sizes are empowered to make a tangible contribution to good in the world by connecting to those groups.  I could not be more proud of that.

Even as I turn over all day-to-day responsibility to Mari, I will remain very active in GlobalGiving.  I will be out there raising awareness, raising money, and advancing the mission.  I believe that over the last ten years we have laid the foundation for our next act, in which GlobalGiving’s impact will be ten times greater.  I intend to help make that happen.

In the first half of 2011, I plan to devote more time to writing and speaking on the general concepts behind GlobalGiving, which are applicable in many other sectors and endeavors.  During that time I will do some consulting for organizations that are looking to break down barriers so that they can unleash the potential of their own people, constituents, and customers.

Finally, I want to thank you for your encouragement and support over the years.  We could not have done it without you, and I am profoundly grateful for what you have done, in ways both big and small.